Two reconstruction projects at Harvard and Elgin are at odds with each other. The village is repaving and beautifying Harvard, while Reverend Michael Kucera has undertaken a spiritual and physical beautification of the First United Church of Christ of Forest Park. The problem is the village’s placement of planters on Harvard has precluded his parishioners from parking there for church functions.
As Rev. Kucera pointed out, it’s difficult to have a functioning church without parking. There is no church parking lot, so members have traditionally parked on Harvard and adjoining side streets. The planter is almost directly in front of the church entrance and has already presented a problem. The reverend reported that a bride had to tromp through mud in October to get to the front door. Funerals may constitute an even worse nightmare, with no suitable spot to park the hearse.
Rev. Kucera came to Forest Park a year ago to help First United reach out to the community through “doctrine and deed.” It’s difficult to attract new members, though, when even longtime parishioners are deterred by the reconstruction. Many of the church’s 150 members are elderly and not up for navigating an obstacle course, or walking excessive distances to worship.
It’s not like the village didn’t know the church was there and would be impacted by the planters. The former First German Reformed Church of Chicago, founded in 1865, moved to its Forest Park sanctuary in 1927. Since then, our community has benefited from the church’s outreach. Members collect groceries for the Community Center food pantry. They serve dinners for PADS and conduct a resale of children’s clothing and toys. They sponsor a block party, Easter egg hunt and march in our St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Rev. Kucera sees a great opportunity for church growth in Forest Park, thanks to our diversity and central location. He is more interested in Biblical growth, however, than a simple increase in congregants. He was educated at a traditional seminary and won’t compromise the church’s rock-solid theology. At the same time, the church has a contemporary style church service, with the reverend playing piano and organ – sometimes at the same time.
Besides serving as a place of worship for First United, the church is home to Grace Central Church, which has an office on Madison Street. This African- American congregation is led by Pastor Darius Brooks. They hold services on Sunday afternoons and Bible study on Tuesday nights. There are not many evenings when the church is not hosting an activity.
Despite the protests of First United and others who are opposed to the planters, the village is going forward with construction. Reportedly, public officials are amenable to removing the planters someday, if they prove to be too troublesome. Hey, can we get an Amen on that?